The DEA Steals People’s Money

The DEA Steals People’s Money

I was startled — though not entirely surprised — to read a recent Justice Department report on the Drug Enforcement Administration’s practice of confiscating cash and other assets from individuals suspected of committing, but not charged with, drug crimes.

The Washington Post summed up the report in this way:

Since 2007, the report found, the DEA has seized more than $4 billion in cash from people suspected of involvement with the drug trade. But 81 percent of those seizures, totaling $3.2 billion, were conducted administratively, meaning no civil or criminal charges were brought against the owners of the cash and no judicial review of the seizures ever occurred.

That total does not include the dollar value of other seized assets, like cars, homes, electronics and clothing.

These seizures are all legal under the controversial practice of civil asset forfeiture, which allows authorities to take cash, contraband and property from people suspected of crime. But the practice does not require authorities to obtain a criminal conviction, and it allows departments to keep seized cash and property for themselves unless individuals successfully challenge the forfeiture in court.

This strikes me as the closest the justice system comes to a police state. In many cases, the asset loss is more damaging to a person than any punishment resulting from a criminal conviction.

This also strikes me as something that doesn’t work too many people up until it happens to them.

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A Vision For Penn State: Board of Trustees Final Address 2017

A Vision For Penn State: Board of Trustees Final Address 2017

The Presidents and Vice Presidents of Penn State’s three student governments (UPUA, CCSG, and mine, GPSA) serve in non-voting roles on the Penn State Board of Trustees and its committees. Each year, the President of each student government is asked to give remarks to the Trustees at the final meeting in the Presidents’ respective term. It’s an occasion that we always look forward to — more recently, the Presidential speeches have shifted from a boring outline the year’s accomplishments to more broad topics about the health and governance at Penn State.

It was an honor last month to give my second final speech to the Board (this one, is in fact, “final”) on a vision for Penn State that spans far beyond the corporate enterprise — the concept that the purpose of Penn State is not just to provide degrees and practical job skills, but a part of people’s soul. The video and transcript are below. I encourage you to stick around after me to listen to UPUA President Terry Ford, whose friendship and persistent debate about the issues he discusses have made me — and I hope both of us — better, more thoughtful Penn Staters. CCSG Vice President Shawn Lichvar, another great partner over the past two years, speaks just before me.

If nothing else, the three of us got a badass picture out of it.

Good afternoon. My name is Kevin Horne and I’m president of the graduate student government. It is an honor to address you for the second straight year about the state of our student governments and the student experience at Penn State.

I spoke last time about Penn State’s fifteenth president Eric Walker, who often thought about the concept of the university having TWO presidents – both himself and the student body president. This is a time when the Penn State student governments had offices and held their meetings in Old Main, ran the library, built and paid for the HUB all on their own, and contributed to a great deal many things that continue to enrich Penn State student life today.

Higher education has changed significantly since the days of Eric Walker’s “two presidents,” but some glimmer of these past monuments of shared governance still shines brightly today. Our President and the rest of the administration have trusted students to allocate the entirety of the $40 million generated from student fees. Through that new process, the students decided to end the CAPS funding crisis. With a contribution of more than $800,000 committed by the Student Fee Board last week, this ensures that no Penn State student will need to wait for mental healthcare ever again.

Students have been successful advocating on issues of all sorts, including diversity and inclusion, transportation, residence life, town and gown relations, campus recreation, educational policy, and yes, even LionPATH. We are in the midst of selecting the next student trustee. You will be able to read about these successes in an upcoming written report, so I won’t spend my five minutes talking about myself, but rather, how I hope this Board can move forward with our successors and to create a better future for Penn State.

It can be easy, if you only watch these meetings, to forget why we are all here in the first place. Dealing with crisis and tragedy, constant litigation, and enormous expenses that will ultimately be passed on to students can be disheartening. Handling these things is one of the central roles of the Board of Trustees but not the ONLY role, or even the most important role. If the corporate side of Penn State is all one consumes, it can be easy to lose sight of what made us all love and want to serve Penn State in the first place.

Every year we congratulate ourselves on how many degrees have been conferred and how many students have received jobs or professional advancement with their degrees. Whether a Penn State education means more than that is not often asked, and certainly not often asked in this room. I believe the idea of a university calls for more.

Students are not customers, as some trustees or administrators refer to them. When we log in to LionPATH and are forced to schedule courses by adding them to what is called a Shopping Cart, the Penn State experience becomes more transactional and shallow, less special, and the spirit of our Founders less vibrant. College must be more than just the acquisition of job skills or the certification of courses passed.

Justin Morrill’s idea in the Land Grant Act was the goal of building “a new type of citizenship.” The real meaning of a University, as Homer phrased it, is “to strive always for the highest excellence, and to excel all others.”

What Penn State leads out of Her students and alumni is excellence, which is the real proof of Her worth. To explore the true meaning of the University is to turn the pursuit of excellence into an adventure of mind and character.

To give enlargement to the ideas of our age we must first enlarge our own minds. We have here in the Nittany Valley the traditions, customs, history, dreams, hopes, feelings, and people necessary to achieve any goal we put our minds to. We’ve shown this creative spirit once before when Penn State was founded. We’ve shown it time and time again, even in the face of the worst possible circumstances. We can show it again now. We can, if we choose, take on the challenge of giving the idea of a University community new meaning as a living ideal.

Provost Jones said it best yesterday in one of the committee meetings. The committee was discussing the next capital plan and its impact on tuition – how if we didn’t build or renovate dozens of buildings, and pass the cost on to students, Penn State would be substantially harmed. The Provost said, simply, “Our University is about people. It’s what’s inside those buildings that counts. At the end of the day, what attracts students to Penn State is the faculty members and the other students inside the buildings.”

What kind of University is Penn State? A former Penn State Trustee wrote that “the Penn State Spirit is indestructible, but only if, in a practical sense, we allow it to come alive inside of us.” If we can conceive of our place as something far beyond the role of students as customers, we have begun to answer that question. It is on all of us here, and you, as the ultimate governing board, to open your hearts and cultivate a vision for the future of Penn State as vast and ambitious as that of our Founders.

Only then will we have met the challenge of the question “What kind of University is Penn State?” Only then will we honor what has always made Penn State great.

There’s something magic happening here, in between Mount Nittany and Bald Eagle Mountain. There’s something magic here that called Evan Pugh back from Europe to start the Farmers High School. There’s something magic here that called Eric Barron away from his Alma Mater and back to the Nittany Valley to lead us today. It’s the same magic that spoke to all of our hearts, and compelled all of us into this room today, to serve Dear Old State, and I insist, it’s a magic worth protecting.

Thank you for your time, and I look forward to the students’ continued engagement with all of you.

On Baltimore

On Baltimore

I love Baltimore. That statement usually draws out a few laughs. But I do. I can’t help it.

It doesn’t have the culture or food of New York, the cleanliness of Portland, the youth of San Francisco, the history of Boston or Philadelphia, the beauty of Chicago, the fun of Miami, or the glamor of Los Angeles. In fact, aside from its crab cakes, Baltimore probably doesn’t top anyone’s objective list for the best at anything. And yet, Baltimore is the best.

Dan Rodricks explained why in this moving obituary to his barber that appeared recently in the Baltimore Sun:

One thing about life in Baltimore: If you move here and make friends and come to know your neighbors, if you become engaged in the civic culture, if you accept the city’s peculiarities, if you take time to discover what’s good about the place, pretty soon — how soon depends on how hard you work at it — you start to feel like a native.

You become an Orioles fan and a Ravens fan, even a Blast fan. You soon find yourself rooting not only for those teams but for the whole city.

Baltimore can break your heart; a person’s commitment to living here gets tested regularly. But you stick with it because you can’t help it. It’s a condition. Something about Baltimore gets into your bones, and you develop civic pride and hold out modest hope — because the alternative frame of mind would be unbearable — that the city will rise to a better place within your lifetime.

As time goes by, an outsider acquires knowledge, often more than the natives have, of amenities — an excellent bagel shop, a reliable place for crabs, a barroom that always welcomes you, a well-stocked liquor store that never alters its shelf configurations.

In high school, I spent what added up to a month each summer in Baltimore going to Orioles games, working, and taking in the city. Few feelings elicit as much nostalgia as a walk around the outside of Camden Yards on a warm Baltimore night, close enough that you can hear the fans cheer again for what is inevitably another hopeful but not-quite-good-enough season. Less enchanting memories, like walking upon the aftermath of a shooting, or being offered drugs you didn’t even know existed on every street corner, or suffering multiple car break-ins, also persist.

But that’s part of what gives the “Charm City” it’s charm. It’s the legendary beer vendor at the game, the bartender at Max’s Taphouse, the professor at John’s Hopkins, the guy selling bootleg t-shirts in the Inner Harbor, or the short order cook at Chaps Pit Beef, all sharing in these same experiences in that beautiful, fucked up place — as Dan Rodricks says — holding out hope that the city will rise to a better place in their lifetimes.

I’ll take that authentic, collective spirit over the well-manicured streets of Silicon Valley any day.

“The List”

“The List”

Imagine having your entire life ruined when you were eight-years old for an action that you could not conceivably understand. There are a multitude of injustices associated with the sex-offender registry, but perhaps none more poignantly addressed than in this Sarah Stillman New Yorker article from a few months ago that struck a nerve with me.

Leah DuBuc was a gregarious child. Plump and pleasant-looking, with ginger hair and freckles, she took the crown at the Little Miss Summer pageant, in lakeside Pentwater, Michigan, belting out “You Are My Sunshine”; she brought the same gusto to gardening and tap-dance recitals. Leah’s troubles began when she was eight and her parents got divorced. Her father remarried and won custody of her and her little sister; her mom, mired in personal issues, was granted supervised visits with the girls at the local Dairy Queen. DuBuc was now sharing her old home with her stepmother and her four children—three boys and a girl.

“I’d never had brothers before, and I was curious,” DuBuc told me. One afternoon, after watching movies with her new step-siblings, ten-year-old Leah mimicked having sex with them—“like we’d seen in the movies,” she says—and then, by her account, exposed herself to the younger kids. It happened several more times, she said.

Later that year, DuBuc recounts, a law-enforcement officer visited her elementary-school class and told the students to inform a trusted adult if they had been subject to abuse. DuBuc remembers complaining to him about mistreatment at home; when authorities arrived to investigate, she says, they learned of her sexual misbehavior. According to another family member, however, one of DuBuc’s step-siblings talked about her actions to a therapist, who then alerted the authorities. (As is often true in such cases, the details may be impossible to establish definitively.)

Amid extensive therapeutic interventions, DuBuc was charged with eight counts of criminal sexual conduct, in the first and second degree. The prosecutor, Marilyn Bradford, insists, “There were a lot of scary things that happened to the victims in the case—ongoing things that happened to the little siblings.” But DuBuc’s court-appointed clinical social worker, Wendy Kunce, noted that at the time “there was a history of ‘charging large.’ ”

At the age of twelve, DuBuc arrived in juvenile court for a series of hearings. Her father, a mechanic, drove her to the courthouse, but he didn’t fully grasp the implication of the charges. (DuBuc’s interviews with authorities often occurred without the presence of a parent or a guardian.) Moments before stepping in front of a judge, DuBuc met with her court-appointed attorney, alone. She remembers giggling when she had to say the words “penis” and “vagina,” and when her fingerprints were taken, she told me, “I felt like I was in a movie.”

DuBuc recalls the court-appointed attorney explaining that if she pleaded guilty to two counts of criminal sexual conduct—a graver crime than the one that she says she committed, because it involved penetration—she’d be taken from her home. Given that she wanted to escape the difficult conditions there, she agreed. DuBuc’s investigating officer, Deputy Sheriff Mike Capra, told me, “I think she was hoping to make it easier on everybody by avoiding a long, drawn-out process and saying, ‘O.K., I goofed up, I’m a kid, I’ll learn from it and move on.”

In April, 1997, the judge ordered that DuBuc be sent to a residential juvenile-sex-offender treatment facility in Manteno, Illinois, called Indian Oaks Academy, where she stayed for nearly two years. An adult could have gone to prison for life, the judge warned, and, as she recalls it, proclaimed her a “lucky girl.”

The horror of sex crimes cannot be understated, but nor can the horror of rendering what is essentially a life sentence to a child who couldn’t possibly know any better. And it is a life sentence — anyone on “the list” is constructively barred from being employed in any job beyond entry level, no matter how brilliant or adept, having a family (don’t tell me you didn’t vet your significant other online), renting property, or living near parks/schools/etc.

There’s often outrage when criminal punishments seem lenient; I would argue that a compassionate approach to the law, especially for those who are over-punished, produces a better society.

Visiting 119 N. Barnard St.

Visiting 119 N. Barnard St.

One of State College’s least assuming houses is also one of its most important. From the Penn State Black Alumni website:

The circa 1910 structure was a rooming house for male African-American students at the Pennsylvania State College from the late 1930s to the early 1950s.  Known as Lincoln Hall, the boarding house could accommodate 6-8 students and was operated by Harry and Rosa Gifford, their children Bessie and Emanuel, and the latter’s wife, Agnes.  The family had moved north from the Mississippi to become fraternity house cooks at Theta Chi, Phi Gamma Delta and Zeta Beta Tau.

Old Lincoln Hall

Penn State’s First and Only Black Dorm

Due to an unofficial campus housing policy at the college from about 1930 until 1946, Black males could only choose to room at Lincoln Hall or at a few private homes.  The very few Black female students could reside in the dorms.  At times Lincoln Hall residents made up half the African-American student enrollment, making it the center of Black life at Penn State.

The Giffords and other Black cooks assisted students by employing them to work for rent and meals.  This network, though born out of segregation, is credited for nurturing, supporting and encouraging an early generation of African American students.

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Some early Lincoln Hall roomers of note include: Wallace Triplett III ‘49, the first Black varsity football player and former NFL player; Henry “Barney” Ewell ‘47, Olympic gold medalist; Roger K. Williams ‘46, vice president of academic affairs at Morgan State College; and James H. Robinson ‘49, associate dean and director at Jefferson Medical School.  Other known residents of Lincoln Hall were Ernest Lowe ‘49, Perry Smith ‘48, Mitchell Williams ‘49, Rufus O. Williams ‘48, Charles Murray ‘50, Clayton Wilson ‘49, Hope Winborne ‘50, Bert Lancaster ‘50, and Rushu Karnge.  A later resident, Barton A. Fields ‘53, became Secretary of the Commonwealth (PA).   This group included several founding members of the Penn State chapters of Alpha Phi Alpha and Kappa Alpha Psi fraternities.

I walked by Lincoln Hall, located at 119 N. Barnard Street, countless times when I lived on the west side of State College as an undergraduate, totally unaware of its significance until recently. The property looks almost exactly as it did 80 years ago, aside from the historical marker that went up in 2012.

Lincoln Hall Plaque

People often have a difficult time articulating the “Penn State spirit” beyond the special feeling one gets when watching a particularly exciting football game or when taking a contemplative walk through campus. I would argue the Penn State Spirit is the collective energy of the things and people that make our University unique, separate from all the commonalities and perks of university life across the country (there are, of course, hundreds of beautiful campuses worthy of contemplative walks and just as many exciting college football games). It is revering Mount Nittany. It is tipping your cap to Old Willow or the admiring the remaining Elms. It is celebrating the unique vision of people like Evan Pugh and Joe Paterno. And it is remembering places that never should have needed to exist at all like Lincoln Hall. There will only ever be one Wally Triplett, one Barney Ewell, and one Penn State. A careful study of this sort of distinctive culture is, in this author’s opinion, a more noble endeavor than the directionless “rah rah” mentality that permeates most large university campuses these days.

Why I Voted for Dan Cocco

Why I Voted for Dan Cocco

Penn State Board of Trustees alumni elections are coming to a close this week, with four candidates vying for three spots. Anyone who’s driven through State College in the last month has undoubtedly noticed the road signs and billboards and other campaign paraphernalia papering the town. It’s no secret Penn State has the most politicized trustee elections in the country thanks to the 2011 mess, so I wanted to take a moment to explain my three choices and urge you to vote before the deadline on Thursday.

For the uninitiated, here’s the short of the situation: Three incumbent trustees are running on a platform endorsed by PS4RS, an alumni activist group which formed in response to perceived (and in my opinion, actual) issues with Penn State governance following the Sandusky fallout. I consider myself much more sympathetic to the PS4RS cause then most current students and young alumni (I don’t claim to speak for either group, but I do interact with a good many people from each and think I have a pretty good pulse). PS4RS believes Joe Paterno should be honored, the Freeh report should be refuted, and Penn State’s large and disjointed board should be more accountable to its stakeholders. I fervently agree with all of those goals, as do the voting alumni. PS4RS has swept the last three elections by large margins, and, frankly, is likely to do so again this year.

The organization has turned off a large number of current and recent student leaders because of some of the attitudes of some its most vociferous members on social media. The organization has, somewhat justifiably, gotten a bad rap by the way some of its members conduct themselves on Twitter and in the comment section of news articles. The term “JoeBot” is not entirely unearned, if you only read the comments. Despite being in agreement with the PS4RS core mission, I am often a target of these attacks. I want to make it clear that I do not endorse this conduct. It is of great distress, for someone who agrees with the core mission, that this group has pinned itself in this corner with otherwise reasonable students and alumni.

Anyway, I’m not voting straight ticket. Here’s why.

PS4RS has accomplished one of its central goals in replacing every elected member of the Board of Trustees. I am glad they did. In the history books, it will say that every alumni-elected member of the November 2011 board was swiftly replaced for making a series of awful decisions — about Paterno’s undignified termination and other issues. The list of replaced trustees include one of Penn State’s greatest ambassadors in Jesse Arnelle and one of its most successful alumni in Joel Myers. I still look favorably on these two men and their body of work. Everyone makes mistakes. Nonetheless, replacing all nine is important for the historical record and how future historians will look back on the Penn State “scandal.” We should be playing the long game to correct the record at this point.

Nonetheless, I think it’s unhealthy for one organization to have a stranglehold on the election process. It’s why I used one of my votes on Dan Cocco, the 2008 THON Overall Chairperson and a voice for young alumni and students.

Cocco is maligned by PS4RS members because he ran on the Upward State ticket two years ago, which was a group created somewhat in response to PS4RS. The organization claimed to prioritize putting “students first” and wanted to move on entirely from the scandal fallout.

There’s a misconception among some of PS4RS’s opponents (and propagated by Upward State) that trustees should have “priorities” or that the Board is driven by prioritization. With all due respect, that is simply not how the Board works. Ensuring students have the lowest tuition possible is not in conflict with honoring Joe Paterno. Welcoming the student voice in university decision making processes is not in conflict with refuting the Freeh report. Striving to correct the record about the scandal does not mean one can not care just as much about the every day functioning of the university. Although the Paterno stuff makes the news, anyone who has actually followed any Trustee meetings over the last several years understands this concept. this Despite his former Upward State affiliation, I believe that Cocco knows this.

A vote for Dan is a vote for honoring Paterno, giving young alumni and students a voice, ensuring responsible budget management, and opening the doors for other non-PS4RS affiliated alumni to run. I view this as a positive thing. Dan understands a trustee can walk and chew gum at the same time — it’s not all or nothing, as some PS4RS critics have incorrectly asserted. Trustees are not politicians, and any talk about prioritizing initiatives is a complete misunderstanding of how the Board of Trustees works. I don’t support all of what PS4RS trustees have done — I don’t agree 100% with any one trustee, nor will I with Dan — but let’s just end that misconception about the nature of trusteeship.

There are members of the Board that simply serve as rubber stamps for the Board’s Executive Committee. No matter how much I like Dan personally, if I thought he was going to be one of those trustees, I would not have voted for him. Young Penn Staters have an incredible opportunity to elect someone who will speak for them, while also applying a responsible amount of pressure on important issues. He’s an exciting candidate worthy of our support.

I also voted for incumbents Bill Oldsey and Barbara Doran, and fully endorse their candidacies. Anyone who claims that PS4RS trustees only care about the Paterno issue need not look further than Bill Oldsey to realize they are wrong. Despite having a reputation for being a bit of a hell raiser, I have not found another trustee (aside from the student trustees) who are more welcoming to the student voice than Oldsey. He is a constant watchdog on the finance committee for making sure Penn State’s budget is as responsible it can be. He has a reputation as being a bit of a firebrand, but one would be hard-pressed to find a trustee who is more engaged with all of the issues.

Doran is another trustee who cares about much more than what PS4RS gets labeled with by its critics. Her input on the various committees has always been measured, valuable, and respectful. As one of the few women on the Board, she has a tough job, but she’s always handled it with grace. I should note that the other candidate, Ted Brown, has always been incredibly pleasant and welcoming to me, but his platform was, in my opinion, the weakest of the group.

A team of Cocco, Oldsey, and Doran would be a win for Penn State, and in particular, Penn State students. If you are a Penn State alumnus, and you haven’t yet voted, PLEASE REQUEST A BALLOT ON THE BOARD OF TRUSTEES WEBSITE BY WEDNESDAY TO HAVE YOUR VOTE COUNTED BY THURSDAY. 

More People Get Election News From Radio Than Newspapers

When’s the last time you’ve intentionally listened to the news on the radio? It’s probably more recently than the last time you’ve read a newspaper.

From the latest Pew Research Poll:

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In the 18-29 demographic, 53% of respondents say the most helpful type of news comes from social media or news websites/apps. Only 2% mention local papers in print (1%) or national papers in print (1%).

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It’s worth sifting through the entire poll if you’re interested in this sort of thing. And if your organization is still printing newspapers or relying on print advertising to survive, start counting down the days.

Even sillier, when I graduated from the Penn State College of Communications less than two years ago with a degree in journalism, I had to take a class on how to layout a newspaper design. Guess how many classes I had on how to effectively use social media?

Zero.